Friday 16th September 2011

Lago de Atitlán

Yesterday, Thursday 15th September, was Guatemalan Independence Day, with celebrations and blue and white flags everywhere, and a joyful atmosphere which I caught a little of in the Parque Central in Antigua in the morning….but it was not long before Karen and three Americans working at the Korean school in Guatemala City arrived, and we began our drive towards Lake Atitlán. Our route took us past the closed gate of the Finca El Capetillo, which I had so vainly tried to visit the day before….I wonder if I shall make it into this finca, so much appreciated by my great grandfather George Charles Champion!?

We rapidly descended towards the steamy Pacific lowlands, where we stopped briefly to sample some delicious pineapples, followed by coconuts, sold by roadside vendors. Finally we left the main coastal route at Cocales, where we began to climb back into the hills, the temperature dropping perceptibly by the kilometre. We made a brief stop at the Los Tarrales, a working coffee plantation which offers accommodation and birding tours – I may visit here in the future, especially as one of the staff members told me that we were extremely close to the Finca San Agustin, where GCC had spent his gloomy and lonely Christmas of 1880. Perhaps I should visit to cheer him up a little!

Our journey continued, involving a great deal of speed bump negotiating, as with the five of us, Karen’s Nissan Sentra grounded on virtually every one! We finally came over the summit, with the spectacular volcanoes Atitlán and Toliman on our left.

Volcan Atitlan & Toliman panorama

There was the lake below us, glistening where the sun reached its surface through the rapidly increasing clouds. We stopped at three miradores for photos to be taken, before descending the long switchback road into Panajachel, where we checked into our hotels.

Atitlan panorama

Interesting contents of a bin at one of the miradores

This morning, Friday 16th September, Karen came by my hotel at 6.15 AM and we took the fast boat along the lake to the village of Paxanax (pronounced Pashanash), from where we walked in the company of Dorothy, a travelling German girl from Cologne, who told us that she had done several birding walks in Costa Rica and elsewhere and hardly ever seen many birds…and at first her run of bad luck continued, as we saw virtually nothing! However, beyond the next village, San Jorge La Laguna, things improved (although sadly she had left us by then!), and we began adding birds such as Blue and White Mockingbird, Black-vented and Baltimore Orioles, Plain and House Wrens, Canada and Yellow Warblers, Slate-throated Whitestart and Red-tailed Hawk.

View of the lake near Jaibalito

Our walk took us along the steeply rising lake shore, providing us with breath-taking views over the lake towards the other two volcanoes, San Pedro and Santa Clara, towering over the western end of the water. We finally descended into the attractive waterside community of Jaibalito, where we had lunch before walking down to the pier, where to my astonishment, who should I meet on a boat heading westwards towards San Marcos La Laguna but Titi Ortiz, with whom we had shared so much fun at the Finca Las Nubes nearly a month ago. Sadly she was going one way and we were going the other, but it just shows how small the world is – or at least the Guatemalan world!

View from the pier at Jaibalito

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